07 Jul Do you think Islam is sex positive or sex negative?
Do you think Islam is sex positive or sex negative?
In your opinion, do you think Islam cultivates sex-positivity or sex-negativity? To me, it seems that Islam recognizes that sexuality is a beautiful and necessary part of the human experience but it is also honest about the ways in which it can be a destructive or oppressive force in society. The thing is though, it seems that most Muslims have decided to only focus on the negative aspects thus believing that the more puritanical and shame-based views on sexuality are more Islamic in nature.
I would argue that Islam is very positive towards sex, as sex is a critical part of the human experience, the overwhelming concern when you look at the Islamic texts regards sex is not in preventing women or men from enjoying it or from shaming people, rather, it is some ensuring that it is participated in a happy, healthy, and safe way.
I think the perception of non-Muslims of how sex functions in the Muslim world, by which they generally mean the Middle East plus Pakistan and Afghanistan when convenient, is that it is a place of repression, one that makes sex “shameful.”
Rather, I think there is a rather sharp distinction between the place and role of sex in the public space and the private space. There is a rather strong aversion towards this, and while not directly related, I think the following quote explains this, and it is specific to the Arab world:
“Women’s sexuality, in the Arab world, has determined the very nature of public and private space. Arab women traditionally occupy a private space, but wherever a woman is, when a man enters that space, he establishes it as public. This separation of public and private is testament to the power of women’s sexuality. It also helps explain how Arab women became sexualized under a Western gaze. In a sense, what the West did was to dissolve the boundaries between public and private, and—here is the important point—the Arab world responded by reinstating those boundaries in a way that would be clear and visible. Behind the veil, an Arab woman maintains a private place, even in public.”
This quote from Lalla Essaydi is one of my favorites, because it explains something rather different in the conception of the relative appropriateness of different arrangements.
The overwhelming concern in Islam is the protection of women (largely) and men from the pitfalls of experiencing sex in a way that is damaging to the physical and emotional elements of the human being.
That is why Islam stresses the need for marriage as a guiding principle for a healthy relationship. It requires that a woman only marry someone with her consent and logically, that consent is required in the sexual arena as well, it underlines that she should make this choice based upon her considerations and what those are, I will not try to outline, as that is beyond my understanding as a man. For men, it requires that a man not seek out intimacy with a woman for fleeting pleasure, that his marriage to a woman illustrates his respect for her, his dedication and loyalty to her, and his unyielding promise to protect her, not just physically, but in a holistic sense.
The Qur’an is quite clear that a man and woman must be cognizant of each other’s bodies, emotions, and comfort:
“And they will ask thee about [woman’s] monthly courses. Say: “It is a vulnerable condition. Keep, therefore, aloof from women during their monthly courses, and do not draw near unto them until they are cleansed; and when they are cleansed, go in unto them as God has bidden you to do.” Verily, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance, and He loves those who keep themselves pure.” [2:222] Muhammad Asad
This Ayah, for some reason, is erroneously equated with force in sex. The Ayah does nothing in this regard, it is far more simple and straight-forward. It simply says “hey, guys, yes, you married couple. Hi. Aw, look at you. Look, bro, when she’s on her period, be nice to her, for real, like, stop being an idiot. Sisterfriend, we all know that this time sucks, so, make sure to get some ‘me’ time.”
Also in The Qur’an, when describing the relationship between a man and woman in marriage, on all levels, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc The Qur’an says this:
“they are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them.” [2:187] Muhammad Asad
The mutual reliance of both partners is clearly evident in this excerpt and I’m not sure it needs explaining, to be honest.
Again, I’d like to underline, the issue within the Islamic perspective is the concern for the well-being of the partners, especially the female, as she is the one who following sexual activity becomes pregnant, for example. Her protection is of the utmost concern, and the rules and regulations are designed to eliminate harm that may be done to her. By extension, this logically applies to children, as an unprotected woman who has child, and it is denied by the father, and does not have protection, this is abhorrent in the view of Islam and thus Islam directs itself towards the protection of the mother and child.
As far as whether Muslims “focus” on this, I’m not sure. If I’m honest, I think this has more to do with immigrant Muslim populations finding the attitude of their new country to be at odds with their perceptions. This is not unique to Muslim immigrants, but to many, and therefore, I don’t think the aversion is to sexuality, rather, it is to the unchecked and unregulated manner that these communities perceive that Western society encourages.
They consciously reject this formulation, and find it to be damaging to the woman, to the man, and to the family. Again, this is not unique to Muslim populations, but I would argue, quite commonplace among many recent immigrant communities.
Therefore, I don’t think it is about “shame,” rather, that is a fetishization from Western minds, to be honest, because in the Muslim mindset, and in many other societies, there is a very stark and sharp contrast between what is appropriate in public and private settings. It is perceived of as “shame” by those outside, but that is incorrect, I think it has more to do with cultural perceptions that are misunderstood by Western observers.
I hope this shed some light on your question, insha Allah.
I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.